Firewall: Kurt Wallander Paperback – 9 Oct 2008
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Not too long ago, Henning Mankell was a well-kept secret, but his latest book, Firewall, will be received by readers worldwide with much fanfare, which is as it should be; Mankell is something special. Some of the initial resistance to Mankell's work might be understandable; like one of the greatest of all filmmakers, Ingmar Bergman, Mankell is from a country noted for Nordic gloom and the lazy-minded are not always prepared to go beyond stereotypes. Their loss: like his cinematic compatriot (Mankell is in fact married to Bergman's daughter), this is an artist of rare achievement.
Firewall continues Mankell's unvarnished portraits of modern life, in which society and all its institutions (not least the family) are on the edge. Here, his long-term protagonist, Inspector Kurt Wallander, moves into new area of crime: cyberspace. Various deaths have occurred: the user of a cash machine, a taxi driver killed by two young girls. The country is plunged into blackout by an electricity failure, and a grim find is made at a power station. What's the connection? Wallander finds himself on the trail of cyber terrorists with shady anarchic aims. But can his own malfunctioning team of coppers pull together to help catch them--or is there a fifth columnist in the police? Plotting here is impeccable, although Firewall may not be a prime entry point for those new to Mankell. But Wallander (here worried about his diabetes and failure to lose weight) is one of the great literary coppers: enthusiasts need not hesitate. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
"The most impressive new voice in the genre since Ian Rankin" (Mark Lawson Guardian)
"Mankell could turn you to crime" (Daily Telegraph)
"Creepy detail that one shudders to believe is accurate" (DONNA LEON Sunday Times)
"Wonderfully bleak thrillers...somehow unremitting and gripping at the same time" (Independent)
"First class police procedural, written with a firm hand" (Independent on Sunday)
Top customer reviews
It's a long and intricately plotted book with several deaths/murders that don't seem to be linked: a man is found dead by a cash machine and in a separate incident two young women brutally attack a taxi driver, who subsequently dies: two deaths that set off a cascade of violence that, at first, seems inexplicable. The unraveling of the effects of the first death and the motives behind the second make for an intriguing and gripping novel that kept me, at least, guessing until the revelations at the end of the story.
Inspector Wallander is a police inspector in Ystaad, Southern Sweden. As usual, he is in despair at what he sees as the gradual erosion of any sort of values in modern swedish society. He is confronted by an appalling example of this when two teenage girls are arrested for the brutal murder of a taxi driver and confess to the crime showing absolutely no signs of remorse. On the same evening a seemingly fit and healthy man drops dead in front of a cash machine, seemingly of natural causes. However, one of the girls escapes from custody and then there's another gruesome episode which seems to link the two events. The plot develops from here with Wallander attempting to piece together what really is behind it all.
The chronology of the series of novels is sometimes hard to follow as the books weren't translated in the order that they were written. If you haven't read any of these before then I would recommend that you start with an earlier novel. This one is actually set after Sidetracked, that is later than any that have so far been translated. The novels stand alone but there are references to events in earlier books. Nothing that spoils any plot however, but it is better to read them in the order they were written.
If you have read these books before then this one is back with what Mankell does best. I was a little disappointed with "Dogs of Riga" and "White Lioness" simply because they seemed to veer away from police procedural and into thriller territory. Firewall is more like "The Fifth Woman" and "Sidetracked". The reader gets to see the story mainly from Wallander's point of view but there is also some things seen from the criminal's eye, to put the reader slightly ahead of the police, but still not in the whole picture. You can never be sure where the investigation is going to lead to. Despite what I said earlier there's plenty of action too.
I also think that Mankell gets the mix of Wallander's private and professional life about right. There's enough to make the detective interesting as a human being but without being too much of a diversion from the meat of the book. As usual Wallander spends most of the book tired, bad-tempered and at the end of his tether and has very little time for a private life anyway. This case has a bit more office politics in it than in previous novels.
In general, the book seems very realistic, although I would say that artistic licence has been stretched a bit in a few places. Some things are never explained, which in some way adds to the realism because I'm sure in real life cases are not as neatly wrapped up in a bundle as conveniently as they are in most mystery stories. However I'm not entirely convinced by the criminal's behaviour at certain points. These are only minor grumbles. I see no letting up in the quality of the overall series with this entry. I find it really hard to compare these works to any other detective fiction availabe at the moment. Wallander might be a bit of a misery, but I'm keen to see what the future holds for him. I eagerly await the next translation.
Firewall is the 8th full-length novel in the series, and also the last. In the next novel, Wallander retires and we follow the exploits of his daughter Linda, who has also joined the police force. Knowing it was the last was a great shame, because it is also, probably, the very best of this incredibly, astoundingly fine series. At the close of each chapter sadness broke over me like a wave. Wallander may not be the most cheerful company, but he is charming and the most endearing of current detective. Mankell's style is also part of the reason why every single sentence is so spellbinding. I can't say why, I don't know exactly what it is about the way he writes that is so special, but nor do I want to. Like seeing how a magician performs his tricks, that may spoil it a little.
Part of the reason why it's all so engrossing is Mankell's mixture of details. Indeed, he depicts a level of procedural detail that should be all rights be dull, but is instead riveting. The reasons for this a re two: Mankell's superb prose, and the very real impression he has created through the entire series that the crucial breakthrough, the information which might crack the case wide open, could come from absolutely anywhere, from the most mundane of tasks.
Also, it may be true that Wallander is somewhat the stereotypical loner (although like them all he has things about him which make him truly original), the police-force background is not at all stereotypical. Unlike many series where the cop seems to constantly go it alone, Mankell creates a unique sense of teamwork, that I don't think I've ever come across before. There's a warmth in the team which surrounds Wallander, and the way they work together. He doesn't have a particularly antagonistic boss, or any colleague he particularly dislikes. They all play their part, they all play their role in a cohesive policing team, and it's a joy to watch it as it works. Mankell knows that otherwise his series may be just TOO bleak and depressing, so the team exists in a happy unity which is far more realistic.
As you may have guessed, I adore this series. Wallander is a superb protagonist, and while just now I said he was the stereotypical loner, in all honesty he isn't. He's actually completely different to his counterparts Bosch and Rebus, etc. Instead of being the attractive loner, he is REAL, he is HUMAN. He gets angry properly (rather than Rebus would), like a child - in Firewall his frustration becomes such that he snaps and throws a chair across a colleague's office. There isn't a single investigator like him.
Do yourself a favour - read this series. Don't start here (Faceless Killers is the first). It isn't for everybody, but serious fans of crime fiction cannot afford to pass it by.
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